Exploring the culture and scenery of the stunning Lake Inle, Myanmar: Our Lake Inle guide!

After trekking for 3 days through the dry and challenging terrain between Kalaw and Inle, staying in simple local villages we were ready to kick back and enjoy Lake Inle. One of the star attractions on the trail through Myanmar it had been billed highly as a stunning location from which to soak in local culture. After how much we enjoyed the experience of trekking we were unsure if Inle could live up to our amazing time in Myanmar so far. However this wonderful country didn’t let us down, but instead provided us another look into the beautiful and diverse culture from yet another breathtaking angle! Here is our Lake Inle guide!

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Lake Inle guide:

Stay on the lake:

The main town that most people end up in by the lake is Nyaungshwe, whilst a convenient place to stay as it is a town, it is also quite ugly and full of overbearing touts trying to sell you boat trips. Too add to this you can’t even see the amazing lake from here! Despite maybe leaving you a short way out of town the best way to really immerse yourself in the lake is to stay on it in one of the stilt house hotels. This way you can wake up each morning looking out on the water, see the fishermen paddling by and watch the amazing sunset reflecting over its waters rather than being in the town and almost forgetting the reason you came here! Check out our amazing accommodation at: Myanmar Treasure Resort – Inle: A perfect lakeside paradise from which to explore the culture of the region.

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See the local fishermen and their unique way of paddling and characteristic nets!

One of the iconic sights of Lake Inle is the leg rowing fishermen with their distinctive cone shaped nets. Getting out on the lake is a great way to see this unique practice in action and to take in this skill passed down through the generations and still very much in use today. One of the top things you have to do on our Lake Inle guide is see the fishermen in action!

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Clearing the reeds from the lake

Born out of necessity as the lake is full of reeds that get easily tangled in the oars, in fact its common to see people clearing these to dry and sell, they must stand up in order to see through the beautifully transparent water and avoid the patches of reeds whilst simultaneously holding their fishing equipment… quite a feat of skill and balance! Get out in a small boat and witness this mesmerising technique that only exists on this lake in the Shan State of Myanmar!

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Rent a bike and explore the surroundings of the lake

Not every mode of transport need to be directly on the lake itself! Renting out a push bike and cycling along the dusty roads that surround Inle itself is one of the most popular backpacker activities. Along the way you will pass through some wonderful local villages, where you are sure to receive a customary Myanmar warm welcome! You can also cut into the lake at certain point to cross over some of the many bamboo bridges that connect many of the floating villages to dry land. This means you can more easily explore these unique communities at your own pace rather than from a boat! There are also many temples to call in at including the Kakku stupas, over 1000 ancient constructions almost lost to the jungle! This is great as it is one of the things on our Lake Inle guide that you can do on your own!

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Trying on traditional tribal clothing near the lake

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Hop on a small canoe at sunset for a close up of the lake

Whilst most, including us, will take a tour around the lake on one of the thin motor powered crafts that speed over the wide expanses of the huge freshwater lake. However for a more peaceful and intimate look at the lake the only way is to hop into one of the small traditional canoes as your boatman performs the enchanting ballet of rowing whilst balancing tentatively on the bow of the craft.

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This way you can get to surface level on the water, touch it as you slowly ebb by, feel the reeds in the water below and catch a sight of the many fish that life in here through the clear water. One of the most wonderful areas of the lake is not in the vast central region, but in the many narrow canal like channels where you are surrounded by floating gardens tended to locals perched on tiny boats, a truly sublime sight that can only be appreciated fully from one of these small and slow canoes. Whilst out here be sure to catch the intense red sunset over the lake as the fishermen come out for their last catch, probably one of the most serine things to do in our Lake Inle guide.

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Get a boat tour and explore the unique culture and sights of the lake:

Of course, visiting Lake Inle is incomplete if you don’t hop into one of the common narrow motorboats and tour the various sights and landmarks of this wonderful place. Here are our highlights of a day spent on the water and our most comprehensive section of our Lake Inle guide.

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Pay a visit to the “Long Neck” Kayan tribes

We skipped this over in Thailand because of the fact that these tribes women have become more like a human zoo over there. Having fled their native Myanmar for the safety of Thailand they have been forced to make money by setting up a fake village and parading themselves for tourists. Here however in the country of their origin they are now free practice their traditions and sell their wares in a more open environment. Mostly from the neighbouring Kayan state, there are pockets of the Padaung living in Shan State in villages on and around the lake. Here you can pay them a visit and see how they live, they are very friendly and open to questions and don’t mind you taking photos. I was shocked to feel the weight of the rings they wear but pleased when one of the younger girls told me they don’t really hurt.

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See the specialist lotus weaving this area is known for:

Another of the specialities of Lake Inle is the lotus weaving that this area is famous for. Here you can pull up to one of the stilted workshops and see the technique from start to finish. Witness how these talented women strip the raw lotus stalks of the strong fibres within and skilfully weave them together into various patterns and colours. One of the things I found most fascinating here was the old English looms they used and how reminiscent this scene was of industrial revolution England, dark wooden factories with the wiring of the looms and the dust of the fibres in the air. In fact it was in a cotton factory just like this where my Grandmother worked as a young lady in the North of England only 50 years ago, a fate most working class people couldn’t avoid in those days.

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Visit the temples and places of worship that sit right on the lake

One of the fascinating features of a community that exists almost solely on the lake is how everyday life for these people exists here. This includes schools, shops and of course temples for this devoted Buddhist nation. One of the most well known and beautiful is the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda that seems to effortlessly float in the tranquil waters of the lake, a golden beacon calling in the worshipers from all over the local area. One of the features of this pagoda is the  five small gilded images of Buddha, which have been covered in gold leaf to the point that their original forms cannot be seen! Many make a pilgrimage here to apply the gold leaf.

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Head for the floating markets and soak in the atmosphere

One of the best places to immerse in local life here is the markets, that is if you can navigate your way over the crowds of boats pulled up here to do business! The first section of the markets floating, vendors will approach your boat as you come into the market area offering local produce including foot and of course local souvenirs such as headscarfs, fabric and old coins. Having missed out on some of the other floating markets across Asia, mostly because we considered them a little too over saturated with tourism, it was nice to catch a more authentic experince here in Myanmar.

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Once you do step off the boat you will be greeted with a series of rickety wooden walkways that are also lined with enthusiastic sellers, here there is no escape from the atmosphere of this lively market place! As you explore further and deeper into the market it gets even more local, most of the few stalls dedicated to souvenirs are at the very front.

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Venture further in and you will be sure to see many of the local tribal women selling delicacies such as fried grubs and many varieties of rice, beans, fruits, veg and meat alongside traditional clothing. Here you can really get a sense of the local way of life and after our trek from Kalaw it really took us back to those market villages we passed through.

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Tour the unique houses and villages that float above this beautiful lake

Of course, whilst on the lake one of the most rewarding experiences is to just explore everyday life and to see how the people in these unique communities live. whilst on a tour of the lake you can weave your way through the complex network of stilted houses, down the narrow canals and in between the cobbled together walkways.

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See children playing on their parents boats, women hanging their washing on pulley systems outside of their rustic two storey wooden houses and people running errands on tiny crafts. It really is a close up look into a way of life many of us could never imagine!

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Have you ever visited Lake Inle?

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MYANMAR (BURMA)

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.